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Staying put, both Sharmila & army act

- Chief minister says activist must eat to be released and argues his case for law

New Delhi, Feb.11: Human rights activist Irom Sharmila will not be released from jail if she does not agree to eat. There is no indication either that the draconian army act which she is fighting against, will be lifted from Manipur either.

“No, sorry,” said Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh when asked if Sharmila would be released from jail. “We are ready to release her if she agrees to break the fast — she will have to take food. Suicide is (an offence under law),” Ibobi Singh said in an interaction with reporters yesterday.

Sharmila has been on a fast for over 13 years, demanding removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that gives the army immunity to operate in the militancy-affected Northeast.

Sharmila has been in and out of judicial custody and had to be occasionally flown to New Delhi for hearings in Patiala courts. She continues to be force-fed with a Ryal’s tube.

Ibobi Singh said he recently visited Sharmila in the hospital’s jail ward in Imphal where her family members approached him. They urged the chief minister to revoke the army act even if partially in order to save Sharmila’s life.

The chief minister argued that he could not allow revocation of the law as it would set off similar demands in other states, particularly Nagaland. The Nagaland state cabinet has twice resolved to remove the army act but the Centre was firm, he said.

Arguing his case, the chief minister said despite pressure from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh he had revoked the act in seven Assembly constituencies of the Imphal municipal area.

“After the Manorama case, the Prime Minister told me, ‘Ibobi, in interest of the nation please do not withdraw because if you withdraw here, Nagaland will also do it,’ but I withdrew,” he said. The rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by security personnel in 2004 had triggered international outrage and had raised serious questions on the impunity with which armed forces operate, particularly in the Northeast.

After the revocation in a limited area, Ibobi Singh claimed to have approached Sharmila to break her fast but she insisted that the act should go completely. The act can be revoked only if militant outfits stop extortion and intimidation of people, the chief minister said.

“If there is no tax collection (extortion) and if they stop violence, then AFSPA will certainly go,” he said.

The law, under which security forces get immunity to even kill, is enforced in Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, parts of Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The Justice Jeevan Reddy committee that studied its impact had recommended its repeal but the Centre has failed to make the committee’s report public. It is imposed by the Centre with a nod from the state government by first declaring a state or a part of it, as “disturbed”.

The law has been in force since 1958 in the Northeast and is also enforced in Jammu and Kashmir.